To the people in the crowd at Berkeley’s very own Cornerstone, The Orwells – whose name takes no inspiration from the Animal Farm author – were more than just some boys from the suburbs of Chicago; they were almost the saviors of the hellscape known as “emotions,” something everyone in that room seemed to repress until they heard the first snare hit. The boys – Mario Cuomo on vocals, Matt O’Keefe and Dominic Corso on guitar, Grant Brinner on bass, and Henry Brinner on the drums – were each fan’s Peter Pan, the part of them inside that would never grow up.
With a barely half-filled venue by the time the show was supposed to start, the opening band Babewatch walked onto the stage at Cornerstone screaming, “What’s up Cold Stone Creamery!”, an incredibly fitting introduction for their generic brand of white boy vanilla music. All of the songs in their brief 30-minute set seemed to just be variations off the same three guitar chords, and I honestly don’t think I can remember a single word their lead singer said. The whole thing just reminded me of if alt-j met Mac Demarco met the boy you sat in front of in high school pre-calc that would try to tell you how Zeppelin continues to rock, even though he can’t name a song past “Stairway to Heaven.” I don’t want to seem too harsh to them, since there were a few people in the crowd screaming for more, but it did seem like the trashcan I was standing next to was getting more action than the actual band. After they played about six songs, the four boys left the stage empty again, and the venue started to pick up the pace, almost (but not quite) filling up the empty spaces in between 6’4” guys drinking cheap beer and girls in XXL flannels that went down to their knees. There was a kid sitting on the bench next to the stage rolling a joint just for himself, while next to him stood a kid in a DIY’d Bloc Party denim jacket going off about his opinions on the evolution of garage rock just for the circle of girls standing around him.
Mario is no stranger to entertaining a crowd, and with some of his past shows behind him, his set at the Cornerstone seemed almost tame (no fights with the sound guys, no taking his pants off). As the rest of the band took their positions at equally spaced distances on the stage, no one really ever moving from the invisible square around them, Mario walked on with the confidence of someone that is almost too good for this business. Slinking around the stage, holding onto the mic as if it was an extra limb on his body, the only splash of color on him was the red of the faux leather boots he wore, save of course his electric personality. It didn’t even matter if no one else was happy to be there: Mario was having the time of his life.
The rest of the boys juxtaposed Mario in the most fitting and perfect way. He was an energetic child, and they were the resigned parents letting him run around, waiting for him to get it all out of his system. They stood off to the sides, focusing on their guitar pedals and bass drum hits, while Mario controlled the crowd with just a single mic. On his side of the stage, Dominic seemed to be having his own personal conversations with members in the crowd, as people handed him notes and even a polaroid picture. Directly behind him, Grant stood with his head down and his body facing stage right. Matt was dancing around a little bit, but nothing could compare to what Mario had on all of them. Closer to the end of the set, Mario scaled the walls of the venue, singing his heart out as he climbed on top of the beams hanging over the audience. The boys kept their focus on the music, though, never once missing a note or hi-hat hit. As they waited for him to come back down before moving on, Mario rolled his eyes and just shouted “oh my god just start the fucking song!”
Playing some of their hits like “Who Needs You” and “In My Bed,” The Orwells’ brief set lasted just under an hour, with a short one song encore. The physical manifestation of “carefree,” the boys just walked off stage as soon as they finished playing their set – Matt even took his guitar off and handed it to the people in the crowd. Each of them picked up their beers sitting on a back amp, walked outside, and that was it. It was like the whole thing could only happen once, and could never exist again; but they managed to evoke that feeling every night on their tour.
The almost surreal part of it all is that at the end of that night, none of them left that stage rockstars. Sure, Mario does claim he’s “like the fucking blonde, Cherie Currie;” and sure, the band has seen an insane amount of success in the past few years. But at the end of the day, they’re still just five boys from the suburbs of Chicago, and all of them walked off that stage to their tour bus to just drink a beer with their four best friends; I’d like to think they’d be doing the same thing no matter what.
Article and Photos by Leka Gopal.